SULEKHA was just 10 when she ran away from an abusive father who beat her and her mother regularly. At the railway station the hungry young girl was lured with food and work by two men… and thus began a nightmare she will never forget. Sold to a brothel full of trafficked sex workers, Sulekha was forced into prostitution and frequently punished with cigarette burns and beatings if she refused.
But fate had other plans for this girl from West Bengal’s Medinipur district. After years at the brothel a police raid rescued her and, through the intervention of an NGO when her family disowned her, she found work and an independent life. And, in a heartwarming twist of fate, Sulekha also found love.
Today she is happily married to a loving and caring man and they have a four-year-old son. But there are countless other sex workers who are trapped along with their children in the dark web of violence, exploitation and misery.
Forced into prostitution
Sex workers in India are in the business largely because of situations beyond their control. Many young girls from poorer or backward regions in rural India are lured with the false promise of a job and a chance of a better life in the city. While some others are sold off to pimps by their own family members due to extreme poverty or want of money. They end up in brothels and forced into prostitution.
GB Road, in Delhi, is one of the largest red-light areas in the country with more than 100 brothels and over 2,000 sex workers. The women here were sold as children, raped and forced into prostitution though they may never admit it for the fear of severe consequences. Delve deeper and there are untold stories of pain and suffering.
The abuse, violence, hardships and inhuman treatment sex workers forced into the trade face, cause irreparable damage to their psyche. They are so broken and scarred that it takes years of counselling to come to terms with the trauma. They are stripped of their dignity, identity and endure a lifelong punishment for no fault of theirs. They are the untouchables and invisibles of our society.
Without intervention, they are enslaved
Sex workers and their children, born into brothels, endure horrible living conditions, lack nutritious food and basic medical needs. Each night the children are pushed onto the streets when their mothers work. They are extremely vulnerable and susceptible to abuse and violence themselves.
Most children of sex workers are denied an education because those controlling the trade believe this will hinder the sex trade in future. These children also have a stigma attached to them that makes breaking away from the profession very difficult. They have little identity besides being ‘a sex worker’s child’ and their entire life is spent battling against it with neither hope nor a future. Most often they have no option but to “join this line of work” and live the same way.
Bringing a new dawn in their lives
Kat-Katha is an NGO that strives to end forced sex work and change the lives of women by providing them with an alternative mode of earning. It has been providing skill and vocational training for sex workers to switch to different livelihoods as well as creating learning and activity centres for their children. Kat-Katha’s efforts are slowly and quietly transforming the brothels on GB road into classrooms and safe spaces for women and their children. Through these initiatives, they have enabled hundreds of women to fight their fears and challenges to create a life of dignity and respect.
Take Seema’s story, for instance. With the help of Kat Katha, Seema, a former sex worker, became part of Maitri Meals – a lunch box service aimed at giving sex workers a livelihood alternative. It was here that she learnt what freedom was for the first time and had the chance to create a different life for herself and her children, away from sex work. She now leads the kitchen project and dreams of starting her own business soon. Seema has come a long way to live a life of her own choice.
You too can help transform forced sex worker’s lives through Kat-Katha. These women and children have spent their lives in the grim realities of GB Road and they deserve a second chance, one that is free from exploitation and abuse.
To impart skills training, provide nutritious food, medicines and rehabilitation for one sex worker Kat-Katha needs ₹20,000 a month and ₹5,000 a month for their child’s education and welfare. No contribution is too small. Every rupee you give opens the door to a new life and a better, safer future for their children. You can donate here.
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Samar is a Marketing Communications specialist and freelance writer. She has a master’s in marketing and creativity from ESCP Business School. She is an avid traveler and likes to write about technology, travel, wildlife and sustainability.